Pictured (L to R) are Amanda Lee and Michael Pacholski. Photos provided.
Pictured (L to R) are Amanda Lee and Michael Pacholski. Photos provided.
They’re 39 of some of the most unmistakingly familiar and popular songs of their time - “Poison Ivy,” “On Broadway,” “Yakety Yak,” “Hound Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock” among dozens more written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.

And from tonight through Aug. 20, they’ll be performed on the Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts stage in the revue “Smokey Joe’s Cafe, The Sounds of Leiber and Stoller.”

Amanda Lee and Michael Pacholski, two of the nine performers in the revue, sat down for an interview Tuesday afternoon to talk about the show’s songs that were hits in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, but still play on today.

“There are no written characters. The way the show was originally done, is all the songs in the show were split between the nine members of the company. And then in our scripts, the tracks - or the characters - are just the names of the people who originated them. So, for our production, we have split up the songs again and we are just ourselves on stage singing the music,” Pacholski explained.

Lee said, “And we’ve created storylines, motifs more to say, throughout the whole show that touch on multiple themes of love and heartbreak and desire and all those things. So it’s really interesting.”

Pacholski said there is no written dialogue in the show as everything is music and sung.

“It’s really nice to have these small little plot lines throughout. There will be a character who falls in love with another person on stage, who sings about them, and then they have a little quarrel and then they can sing about the other person, and it’s just nice to see,” he said. “And the music is so timeless and relatable that it really encompasses the feelings that are invoked in those situations.”

He said Leiber and Stoller wrote a lot of music throughout the 1950s and 1960s, ending in the early 1970s. They wrote for Elvis Presley, but more specifically for The Coasters and The Drifters. They often co-wrote songs with Ben E. King, who was the lead singer for The Drifters. King’s music is in the revue, such as the classic song “Stand By Me.”

Pacholski said the show is “nonstop music and hits that I’m sure the audience will recognize and love.”

Lee said she didn’t know a lot of the songs before they began rehearsing for the show.

“We didn’t really know what roles exactly we would be playing or the songs we would be singing until the week prior,” she said.

Pacholski said he knew a good half of the songs easily.

“My grandfather grew up listening to all this music. One of his favorite songs was ‘Yakety Yak,’ which is in the show, so I grew up listening to that. And, I think that with the singers we have singing this music, even if you don’t know these songs, you will come out of the theater singing and having a good time because of the life that is brought to it,” he said.

Lee said the show is like a concert where there are songs that make you feel like you’re at a concert, but then there are a “good amount” of ballads that audiences will get to see the character storylines “that they’ve come up with themselves come out.”

Pacholski said saxophonist Alex Jashinski will be on the stage for the top of Act II, which he said is a lot of fun.

“And I think that every song brings its unique challenge to the singer, too. But, also, the way the songs are laid out are really drawn to each individual strength,” he said.

Lee said, “I think it’s one of those shows that was designed to be that way, too.”

As to what made the songs of Leiber and Stoller the hits that they were, Pacholski said, “There’s something about this blues rock ’n’ roll feel wherein the rhythm and the intention is driven through the singing. The lyrics and the way in which the lyrics are crafted to the music really makes people feel it. And, at the time, it was very unique to be blending these styles.”

Lee said throughout the decades, when one thinks about the popular music of the time, “a lot of their songs, I think, went places that I’m sure a lot of artists at the time were not trying to go. Some of the things that people will hear, they’re exciting and they’re about being human and just about all of the things that encompass that. And, with the way they - how they put it to music - and the people they had singing their songs.”

One of Pacholski’s favorite numbers in the show, which he also thinks is one of the most difficult vocally and incredible, is “I’m A Woman.”

“It’s where we have, by the end of it - I know even in the rehearsal room, everyone is just blown away by the sound coming off of the stage. As you have four women just singing as hard as they can, as loud as they can, and in those moments I’m just grateful to be in the rehearsal room with these amazing people,” he said.

This is Lee’s first season at the Wagon Wheel and she’s been in every show since playing the fairy godmother in “Cinderella.” She said playing the fairy godmother was something she’s done a little bit before, but it was a really nice welcoming experience to play the role at the Wagon Wheel.

“Coming to the end of it all (the summer season) with this show, the show is really special and I think one of its main themes is the transitions that we go through in life, so reaching the end of this section of my life and doing this show and having been here, it feels like it’s come full circle. I’ve enjoyed my time and I’ve met so many people, so creating this with the smallest cast that we’ve had since being here, feels like creating something close to the heart to finish it off. So, yeah, it’s been a really good time,” Lee said.

Originally from Atlanta, Ga., Lee is from a small town called Conyers. She just graduated from Florida State University. This summer season at the Wagon Wheel is her first professional job and she plans to move to New York on Sept. 10.

Pacholski is closing out his fifth season -show No. 31 - at the Wagon Wheel.

“Which to this day baffles me because they just fly by so fast. But, also, back in 2017, this was my first professional job, too,” he said. His first show at the Wagon Wheel was “Newsies.”

After “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” wraps, in October he will be in Virginia at the Virginia Children’s Theatre where he will be playing Archibald Craven in “The Secret Garden.” It’s a musical based on the children’s book.

Tickets for “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” can be purchased through the Wagon Wheel box office or online at wagonwheelcenter.org/.